It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything NFL-related on this blog, but why not try it again and see how the dice lands this time around?
Week 1 is always one of the most anticipated weeks for a football fan. Despite all the offseason hype that rolls around, the first game of the regular season is a true litmus test to determine just where your team stands in the NFL hierarchy. Whether it be how impressive the rookie crop has been in training camp or how a specific player earned a roster spot with a strong preseason, Week 1 is where the fans can gain concrete evidence for or against specific narratives.
Granted, Week 1 is also prone to delivering serious overreactions in the aftermath. No, your team isn’t going to the Super Bowl because you dominated your first opponent, nor should you start your rebuilding plan because of a bad opening loss. We won’t truly know where the teams stand until the first month of the season comes to a close, hence the chaotic nature of a ranking this early on.
That said, that’s the fun of doing these rankings. It’s fascinating to look back and seeing where a team started and questioning how you thought so highly or negatively of them in the first place. It happens every year in every sport, so there’s no shame in admitting that you were wrong about a certain team or player. The only question now is juggling this with the NHL when it starts up next month (your problem, future me).
So where does your team stack up?
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There are noticeable chinks in the defending Super Bowl champion’s armor, such as an inconsistent running game and a lack of quality secondary depth. Until Father Time solves the riddle known as Tom Brady, however, there’s no reason to doubt the Bucs can close out games and be a force throughout the season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: Make that 11-0 with a 35-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio for Patrick Mahomes in September, and the offensive triumvirate of Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce remains the deadliest in the NFL. The Chiefs might be hoping for repeat performances; the defense has issues that Tyrann Mathieu’s return won’t fix, so expect plenty of firefights all season long.
3. Los Angeles Rams: The Matthew Stafford era in L.A. started with a bang, highlighted by two long touchdown throws that should continue to open things up for Sean McVay’s offense. If one of the running backs can step up in the absence of Cam Akers, a chance for a hometown Super Bowl would increase significantly.
4. Seattle Seahawks: New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron made his mark on the Seahawks early, as Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, and D.K. Metcalf all had big days against a typically-stout Indianapolis defense. However, we’ve seen this movie before; if the Seahawks want to be taken seriously as a contender, they need to continue to produce these efforts with consistency, especially in the playoffs.
5. Cleveland Browns: The Browns came shockingly close to leaving Arrowhead Stadium with their first season-opening win since 2004, but three costly second-half turnovers put a stop to those ambitions. They’re still in the top five because they’ve shown they can be a serious competitor against the top teams; now it’s just a matter of eliminating the mistakes before playoff time.
6. Buffalo Bills: The Super Bowl talk cooled significantly in Buffalo, as they did virtually nothing against the Steelers in one of the more surprising outcomes of the week. It’s far too early to panic, but if Josh Allen continues to look more like the raw prospect of his rookie season than last year’s potential MVP candidate, there could be serious causes for concern.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Who saw that coming? Whether it was Kyler Murray kicking off his MVP campaign with a five-touchdown performance or a surprisingly strong defensive effort headlined by Chandler Jones five-sack afternoon, the Cardinals dominated Tennessee in just about every facet of play. It’s hard to think of a team with a more impressive Week 1 effort…
8. New Orleans Saints: …well, maybe not. Despite having their first home game relocated to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida, the Saints looked right at home. Between Jameis Winston’s hyper-efficient stat line and the defense forcing reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers to the bench in the fourth quarter, they showed that they can still be competitive without Drew Brees.
9. San Francisco 49ers: All four NFC West teams being in the top 10 should be an indicator of how difficult this division is going to be. The dominant storyline coming from San Francisco wasn’t the ongoing quarterback battle between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance, but how the defense completely fell apart after the loss of Jason Verrett. They made a key stop outside of the red zone to stave off a Detroit comeback, but that defensive effort won’t cut it in a division loaded with quarterback talent.
10. Los Angeles Chargers: Despite having all the ingredients of a typical Chargers loss, this unit managed to pull out a gutsy road win over Washington. While Justin Herbert will deservedly get the adulation for shaking off two costly turnovers with a game-winning drive and being aggressive on third down to burn the clock away, the new-look offensive line spearheaded by first-round pick Rashawn Slater deserves credit for keeping one of the league’s best pass-rushing units at bay.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rumors of the Steelers’ demise may have been exaggerated, especially after putting together a clinic against a Bills offense that was near-unstoppable last season. Their own offense still has some question marks, but it’ll be a relief to Ben Roethlisberger and crew that their defense will give them a chance to get into a rhythm.
12. Dallas Cowboys: Despite a heartbreaking loss, Cowboys fans are likely rejoicing over Dak Prescott’s return to form. Questions still linger, however, regarding Ezekiel Elliott’s confusingly low usage, how long a young defense will adjust under Dan Quinn, and how this team will respond to Michael Gallup’s injury and La’el Collins’s suspension. The next couple games are going to be crucial.
13. Baltimore Ravens: Maybe all those injuries on offense were more critical than we thought, as exemplified by Lamar Jackson’s enigmatic performance on Monday. Two costly fumbles and having to deal with constant pressure isn’t going to help him develop as a passer, and now they draw the Chiefs on a short week? Yikes.
14. Green Bay Packers: The NFL’s version of The Last Dance started out with a twisted ankle, courtesy of Jameis Winston and the Saints. When Jordan Love looks better than the reigning MVP and Green Bay’s best hope for a Lombardi Trophy, that’s the epitome of a “burn the tape” game. Better days are likely ahead, but if they don’t, could this be a situation that gets toxic?
15. Tennessee Titans: The Cardinals just put on a master class on how to defeat the Titans: stop Derrick Henry consistently, build up a big lead against a shaky defense, and force a passing game not yet in sync to throw their way out of a deficit. Taylor Lewan’s accountability after getting victimized by Chandler Jones warrants respect, but it’s hard to find anyone on this team NOT deserving of blame for…whatever that was.
16. Miami Dolphins: If you were looking for Tua Tagovailoa to finally establish himself as a legitimate NFL franchise quarterback, you came away from this game sorely disappointed. If you were looking for a team playing to its strengths and looking good in key situations, you took away plenty of positives. The whole Xavien Howard drama’s cleared up long-term…right?
17. New England Patriots: The good news for the Patriots is they seemed to make the right decision on Mac Jones, as he actually outperformed Tagovailoa in the first battle of Alabama quarterbacks. The bad news is that Damien Harris went from hero to goat with a fumble that ultimately cost the Pats a winnable game, something Bill Belichick won’t be happy about.
18. Denver Broncos: Minus Jerry Jeudy’s injury, this was exactly the performance Broncos fans wished to see: a capable offense led by Teddy Bridgewater shoring up a strong defensive effort. Von Miller made a case for Comeback Player of the Year with two sacks, and such performances will be necessary if the Broncos want to snatch a spot in the playoffs.
19. Indianapolis Colts: Despite Carson Wentz deserving credit for avoiding the mistakes that plagued his final season in Philadelphia, nothing saved them from being dominated on both sides of the ball by Seattle. Frank Reich and his staff will have to bounce back quickly; even in the weak AFC South, two straight home losses to start the year could be the difference between the postseason and sitting out come January.
20. Washington Football Team: Taylor Heinicke had flashes in both Washington’s playoff game against Tampa Bay and the Chargers on Sunday, but he’ll now be called upon to guide the WFT after Ryan Fitzpatrick was put on IR. If he struggles to push a team loaded with talent over the edge, Cam Newton might want to think about putting Ron Rivera’s number on speed-dial.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: It’s hard to think of a first-year head coach who had a better debut than Nick Sirianni, who oversaw Jalen Hurts dominating an overmatched Falcons defense and a defensive performance that punished Matt Ryan. If they can catch a San Francisco team reeling from a near-loss, the Eagles could convince a lot of people about their legitimacy as a team on the rise.
22. Carolina Panthers: Sam Darnold was successful in his revenge game against the Jets, and having a reliable running back and safety valve in Christian McCaffrey can only help him as he gets acclimated to his new team. If the young defense can prove they’ve taken key steps against tougher competition, Matt Rhule might be on to something here.
23. Cincinnati Bengals: Despite a poor fourth-down decision by Zac Taylor opening the door for the Vikings to take Cincinnati to overtime, the Bengals were able to slam said door into their faces with Taylor redeeming himself on a much more sensible fourth-down call. Joe Burrow looked good coming off of knee surgery, JaMarr Chase erased some doubts towards his ability at the NFL level, and Joe Mixon’s strong game hopefully allows the offense to be more balanced this year.
24. Chicago Bears: It was the right decision to send Andy Dalton in front of the firing squad known as the Rams defense, but is Justin Fields’s inevitable debut (possibly as soon as this Sunday) going to really save this team? The defense hasn’t looked right in the last couple of years, and more ugly performances on that side of the ball could force the highly-touted Fields into an unmanageable situation.
25. Las Vegas Raiders: It took an epic comedy of errors to reach the end, but the Raiders did manage to open Allegiant Stadium to fans with a huge Monday night victory. Clelin Ferrell’s healthy scratch just two years after the Raiders drafted him number 4 overall is a massive knock on the Gruden-Mayock regime’s draft decisions, but Maxx Crosby and Bryan Edwards at least seem like hits.
26. Minnesota Vikings: While Vikings fans might call refball on Dalvin Cook’s costly fumble call, the truth is that Minnesota lost this game on their own. Kirk Cousins still doesn’t scare anybody from stacking the box on Cook, and the offensive line and defense are still serious issues. With a tough slate coming up ahead, could we seriously consider Mike Zimmer as a candidate for a mid-season firing if these struggles continue?
27. New York Giants: In 27 career starts, Daniel Jones now has 30 fumbles and 40 turnovers, including one that iced the game in Denver’s favor. That and several questionable decisions on both sides of the ball isn’t a good look for a team that’s seeing a lot of people requiring good seasons to keep their jobs.
28. Houston Texans: Sometimes, not having the weight of expectation is a good thing. While this victory should be taken with a grain of salt (the Jaguars’ only victory last season came in Week 1), the Texans shook off claims of being the worst team in football with a statement win over, ironically, the Jaguars. Also, if you had a Tyrod Taylor redemption arc on your 2021 NFL bingo cards, good on you.
29. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, I am so sorry. Your overall solid day was marred by how terrible the Jets’ offensive line is, and an injury to stud left tackle Mekhi Becton does not help matters. Whose name do I burn in effigy if Wilson gets Joe Burrowed mid-season?
30. Atlanta Falcons: So much for Arthur Smith and Kyle Pitts bolstering the offense. The defense struggled as expected against Jalen Hurts and crew, but it was clear how much the Falcons missed Julio Jones on offense. Not much good to be said here.
31. Detroit Lions: For as hysterical as Dan Campbell’s press conferences have been, the Lions nearly stealing victory from the jaws of certain defeat shows his team is already responding to their new coach’s energy. And then Jeff Okudah goes down for the season with a torn Achilles. Ladies and gentlemen, the Detroit Lions.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence will likely follow the Peyton Manning route and struggle in his rookie season, but can we talk about Urban Meyer for a second? Multiple reports are circulating about him already losing control of this team, and now being heavily outcoached by David Culley in what was supposed to be a statement win? It may be a Week 1 overreaction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Meyer hire sets the Jaguars back years.